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In the aftermath of accidents that result in injuries, medical expenses, and various other types of losses, the civil court system provides a pathway to relief. Plaintiffs who have suffered harm may receive financial compensation to cover an array of damages, including, but not limited to pain and suffering, as well as property damage. Amid this legal landscape, two distinct forms of compensation emerge: compensatory damages and punitive damages. While compensatory damages aim to redress actual losses, punitive damages have an altogether different mission – punishing the at-fault defendant. The journey through this legal terrain necessitates the experienced guidance of an experienced North Charleston Personal Injury Attorney.

The Cannon Law Firm in North Charleston is dedicated to championing our clients’ rights and ensuring accountability for those at fault. As such, we provide a free consultation to discuss your case.

What are Compensatory Damages?

Compensatory damages, also known as actual damages, are a type of damages awarded in a civil lawsuit to compensate the plaintiff for the harm they have suffered due to another party’s negligence. These damages encompass a spectrum of expenses, including medical bills, future medical costs that result from your injuries, and property damage. Actual damages can be further categorized into two distinct types:

  • Special damages:

    These damages present an easy calculation, rooted in the actual expenses the victim has borne. They include medical bills, wages lost due to the injury, property damage, and the financial outlays associated with litigation. These losses are substantiated through physical evidence.

  • General damages

    Awards in this category prove far more elusive to quantify, encompassing subjective losses such as emotional distress, pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), disfigurement, reduced life expectancy, prolonged medical care, and even defamation. They also extend to include “loss of consortium,” a profound challenge in forming relationships post-injury. Personal injury settlements frequently incorporate both special and general damages.

What are Punitive Damages?

Punitive, sometimes known as vindictive or exemplary damages, stand as a form of corrective action against a defendant in legal cases marked by their outrageous conduct. Vindictive damages are also awarded to not only punish a defendant but to serve as a deterrent to others within the community.  

Consider the scenario where a company knowingly markets a defective product capable of harming consumers. In such cases, punitive damages might be imposed if the utter disregard for community safety in the decision-making can be conclusively proven. Additionally, punitive damages come into play, when negligent behavior leads to the harm to others, like in drunk or distracted driving wrecks. 

While the plaintiff receives the monetary award, punitive damages are primarily a means of penalizing the defendant for their actions, rather than serving as compensation. 

Compensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages

The key difference between compensatory vs punitive damages lies in their anticipated outcomes on both sides of a personal injury claim. Compensatory damages are structured to assist the injured victim, whereas punitive damages seek to punish the party at fault. Additionally, compensatory damages overwhelmingly outnumber punitive damages. In South Carolina, punitive damages are exclusively granted when the court identifies the guilty party’s actions as intentional, marked by gross negligence, malice, willful misconduct, wantonness, or fraud. 

When seeking legal advice regarding personal injury claims in South Carolina, individuals can rely on Cannon Law’s expertise to navigate the complexities of compensatory damages vs. punitive damages and understand the differences between the two types of damages.

Compensatory Damages vs Punitive Damages

Limits to Compensatory Damages and Punitive Damages in South Carolina 

In the intricate realm of personal injury claims, understanding the boundaries of damages is crucial. South Carolina law, in particular, sets forth explicit limits to damages, ensuring a fair and equitable legal landscape for all parties involved. 

The Punitive Cap: An Overview 

Under South Carolina Code 15-32-530, a statutory framework governs the ceiling for punitive damages. Generally, punitive may not exceed three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a case. Moreover, the cap also places an upper limit of $500,000 on punitive damages. This legal provision seeks to balance the scales of justice by ensuring that damages remain within reasonable bounds.

Exceptions to the Cap

While the statutory cap provides a clear guideline, exceptions exist that can alter this limit. In specific circumstances, punitive damages may be allowed to reach up to four times the amount of compensatory damages or, alternatively, up to $2,000,000. These exceptions come into play when the court finds compelling reasons to justify a departure from the standard damages cap.

The Removal of the Cap

Further exceptions to the cap take the form of complete removal. In certain cases, the statutory limit on damages can be lifted entirely. This typically happens when the defendant’s actions exhibit extreme recklessness, willful misconduct, or intentional harm. In such situations, the court may find it appropriate to forgo any limitations on damages, allowing the plaintiff to seek a more substantial award.

How do I get Compensatory and Punitive Damages?

Compensatory damages hold sway over a broad spectrum of personal injury claims stemming from the negligence of another party or entity. Common accident scenarios may include:

In personal injury claims, the most prevalent damages encompass:

  • Medical expenses (past, present, and future)
  • Lost wages resulting from time away from work
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Interference with relationships

Punitive damages, however, enter the picture when the at-fault party’s actions display a disregard for the safety and well-being of others. Such scenarios might encompass:

  • Cases suggesting the at-fault party’s intent to harm the victim
  • Lawsuits revolving around severe injuries sustained by the plaintiff
  • Medical malpractice claims where negligence results in severe harm or loss of life
  • Class-action lawsuits involving multiple injured parties
  • Cases motivated by malicious intent, where the guilty party engages in malicious activities deemed socially unacceptable.

Go to our Notable Cases page, to find examples of compensatory and punitive damage settlements we’ve won for our clients.  Including, Compensatory Damages for a Truck Accident, and Punitive Damages for a Car Accident.

Cannon Law – North Charleston Personal Injury Lawyer

Cannon Law, a trusted source for legal guidance in South Carolina, provides essential information on the differences between compensatory and punitive damages. In personal injury claims, compensatory damages refer to the financial compensation awarded to the injured party as a means to restore them to their pre-accident state. These damages encompass both economic losses, such as medical expenses and lost wages, as well as non-economic losses, like pain and suffering. On the other hand, punitive damages serve a different purpose. They are designed to punish the wrongdoer for their reckless or intentional actions and to deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Understanding the distinction between compensatory and punitive damages is crucial when navigating the complexities of personal injury claims, and Cannon Law is committed to providing clarity and expert guidance every step of the way.

In the unfortunate event that you or someone you know has suffered injuries due to another party’s negligence, it is highly advisable to engage the services of a Personal Injury Attorney in Charleston. At Cannon Law, we offer a free consultation, and our fees are contingent upon our success in securing compensation for you. Learn more about our services or reach out to us today! 

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